After the Rain

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Last Tuesday I drove home from work in a hailstorm. The rain lashed my ten-year-old minivan and I watched sheets of water shed down hillsides and form streams in the low places. Lines of cars and trucks and vans pulled over onto the side of the road, but I held steady, plowing through fast-running water on the road. I worried about my tomato plants—their new, tender growth vulnerable to breaking. I hadn’t even staked them yet, waiting to see where they might need it most. When I arrived home, the rain was too heavy to check. I stood in front of the bay window and watched the stalks bend under the weight of all that wet.

Finally, in the evening, the sun came out, but it was only a short reprieve. It would rain on and off in sudden, violent bursts for three more days.

I worried about my tomato plants and my beans but the news told stories of nursing homes being evacuated, of children swept away in fast-rising water, of power outages, and burning homes floating down a swollen river. It felt surreal. Then, Friday night we went to a blues festival along the Kanawha River and I was stunned at how high the water was. We were on the University of Charleston lawn, directly across from the capitol building. From where I stood I could see the capitol steps had been swallowed up by the river. Bits of debris and chunks of unidentified objects flowed through the fast-moving waters as I stood on the bank with a lump in my throat.

Yesterday gave us our first day without rain in a while. I slipped on my orange rubber clogs and splashed out to check my little garden. The beans were fine, vining up their trellises happily. But I worried over the tomatoes. They were bent and twisted, leaning precariously in awkward positions—but not broken. I rummaged around in the crawl space under the house until I found my old tomato cages and wooden stakes. I worked for hours, until my fingertips turned green and smelled of tomato leaves. I pinched off low hanging leaflets and suckers, I cut an old pair of panty hose into strips and tied up errant limbs. I worked until my back hurt and my nose was running, my feet soaked from wet grass and soggy earth.

In the paper this morning, there is a long list of things we can do if we want to assist the flood victims and/or with clean up efforts. Local churches and grocery stores are collecting drinking water and cleaning supplies, the Red Cross has set up shelters for people, and a shelter has been set up for pets by the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association, but if you want to donate to the efforts, here are a couple ways:

  1. Volunteer or donate to the Red Cross. Visit org/local/west-virginia or www.volunteerwv.org
  2. Volunteer or donate to the United Way of Central West Virginia: htt://unitedwaycwv.org/
  3. Talk to your church about making a donation to either of the above, or do what the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are doing.

There are so many things we can’t control when disasters strike, but there are always ways to help. And I can always pray.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in her audiobook Seeing in the Dark: Myths and Stories to Reclaim the Buried Knowing Woman, says it is a miracle to be born into this life. ” … given all the things that can occur between conception and birth and beyond,” she says, ” it’s a miracle not only to be born but to remain alive in this this world. There’s a reason … for us to be doing what we do, thinking what we think, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, and bringing it into a world that literally is starving to death.”

Today I celebrate the lives of those we lost this past week, and all the gifts they brought into this world. I pray with my heart heavy, lift my neighbors up before the One who can bring light to the darkness. I pray as I stake and tie up a tomato plant, bringing order to the mess, pruning to make room for new fruit.

Jesus for President

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Yesterday—the day Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders came to town—was the National Day of Prayer, and Franklin Graham preached on the steps outside the West Virginia Capitol building as a part of his 50-state “Decision America Tour.” I got up early to put in my two-cents worth, but ended up falling back to sleep with my forehead pressed into the dining room floor, Bible open to Romans 8 on the table. I drove to work in the rain and tried to keep the conversation going, tried to focus on gratitude and love and all good things as I puttered under gray clouds.

Work was stressful and fast-paced and it felt like the gray clouds had misted indoors, dogging me with gloom. I was sitting outside a patient’s room writing a progress note when my friend David stopped to say hi. “I thought I’d go up to the seventh floor during lunch,” he said. “There’s a good view of the capitol from there. I thought I could pray a little. Want to come?”

I love to pray with people. Something about joining hearts together this way opens up that thin veil between heaven and earth. Jesus is so close. I’ll pray with just about anyone, anywhere.

“Sure,” I said.

So after we snarfed our lunch we took the elevator up and stood side-by-side looking down through a wall of glass. The capitol dome shone golden in the sun, but we couldn’t see the people who gathered there.

I closed my eyes for a minute and imagined the people down there, praying and singing, holding hands and hoping together. David offered up some words and I chimed in a little, but mostly, we were speechless. What do we pray for? We wondered out loud. Where is wisdom, where is love?

“When people ask me to pray for our country, I always end up praying for the Church,” David said. “That we would keep focused, keep our eyes where they should be.”

We wondered who would make the headlines on the local paper. Would prayer beat out Trump and Bernie? Of course, we knew better, but wouldn’t it be great? David said.

“Politics and religion make me so uncomfortable,” I confessed. And he agreed. It’s too tricky a tightrope to walk. A slippery slope. A rock and a hard place.

“God knew what He was doing when He brought Jesus into this world during the time that He did. Jesus’s country was occupied; you know? And the people wanted him to take it back, to be this warrior king, and fight. But he showed us, that isn’t the way.”

I thought about some of the political “fights” I’ve witnessed lately—on Facebook, and in person. What would Jesus think? I wondered.

“I have no hope in the Democratic Party,” the Charleston Gazette quotes Franklin Graham as saying to the people of West Virginia yesterday (the story about his appearance was relegated to section “C” of the paper. Trump made the big headline with the biggest photo. Sanders got co-lead but a smaller photograph). “I have no hope for the Republican Party. The only hope for this country is almighty God and the people of God.”

I haven’t always agreed with the things Graham has said, but this? This was a reminder I needed to hear. Romans 8 tells us He is working “all things together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (verse 28). When I live out this belief, I can love much better—even those who disagree with my political views.

So when I pray for our country, for our world, I pray for the church. I pray for the hearts of our leaders but also for the hearts of the people. And I remember the posture Jesus modeled for us: servanthood. I pray for God to give me a heart of humility and grace.

And I trust that all these things are held in the hand of God.

Awake My Soul

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It is ten degrees this morning when I take Bonnie out. She steps gingerly into the frosty grass and quickly figures out how to be quick. The sky is an ocean of light-tipped waves and I see Venus pointing up to Saturn in a bed of milky gauze. These bits of shine gathered in one place become my prayer.

The drive to work is shrouded. I count headlights, listen to praise. The horizon takes on a dusty hue and I pass over a river of glass. Just before Oakwood road, the birds flock madly over skeletal trees, their bodies imprinted against the approaching dawn. I shift lanes.

The parking lot is silent and I walk the longest block to the hospital, insulated—gloves and toboggan and thick winter coat. Only one other on the cold sidewalk. She doesn’t look at me.

God is here, I want to tell her. God is here.

I pour my cup into his hands.

The day begins.

Playdates with God: Changing Calendars

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Every year for Christmas, my mother-in-law buys me the current Susan Winget Bountiful Blessings calendar from Lang, and I love it. Sometimes, when the year is up, I cut out all of Winget’s little painted birds and the scripture quotes from the calendar artwork and collage them into my own masterpiece. I love the bits of whimsy she paints and often see my own little garden in her vignettes.

After the holiday, when the Christmas cards have lost their luster and that last bit of glitter has been daubed away from the counter grout, I find a quiet corner and sit with the old year and the new to transfer all my important dates from one to the other. Yesterday, the second Sunday of Christmas on the church calendar, was just the day. To enhance the mood, I first filled my bird feeders outside the kitchen window. Then I sat at the table in a dapple of sun and let my pen be the bridge between the past and the future.

As I flipped through the months of 2015, reliving each appointment and special occasion, I noticed the snowbirds pecking around underneath the feeder. A black-capped chickadee flitted in and out of my vision, giving his bright chicka-dee-dee-dee to announce his comings and goings. I revisited wedding anniversaries and baptismal anniversaries and the birthday of Teddy’s preschool playmate. Some names had numbers written beside them in parenthesis: Olivia (15); and I marveled at how quickly the years have gone. Hadn’t I just penned her birth onto my calendar? I whispered the names of nieces and long-silent friends and family members whose birthdates I am not allowed to acknowledge because of their religious beliefs. I did. I acknowledged them. I celebrated them. I gave thanks for their births and their lives.

As I sat with my pen, flipping pages on two calendars, pouring over days past and days to come, my husband walked in the kitchen. “If only you had some electronic device that had a calendar on it so you could keep track of those things. And even get reminders,” he teased.

I do use the calendar on my phone quite a bit. But it can never replace this sacred New Year’s ritual. This practice has become a way of sanctifying time—of remembering and letting go, of praying into the newest year.

Do you still use a wall calendar?

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

A Prayer for Paris

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This morning, we reel from the attacks in Paris and I light a candle for the lost and wounded. I pray God’s comfort for the shaken world and weep with those who weep. My cheeks are chapped from the long walk in the wind last night and they drink tears thirstily. I lean my forehead against the window and watch the morning light spread like seeping tea. The air in our little valley is still restless and wandering leaves are soul’s bread. Did I once stand in those waving grasses, cheeks scrubbed pink and eyes full of blue sky?

On a morning like this I cannot help but think, what would I do without Jesus?

Yesterday, I read these words:

Organized religion is an attempt to communicate religious mystery to people who have not experienced it, and most often the task falls to people who haven’t experienced it either. What is deemed sacred in organized religion? Not the original revelation, but the robes, the ceremonies, the houses of worship, the scriptures, the ministers or rabbis. The original sacredness disappears in dogma and ritual—physical manifestations—that become holy in and of themselves and are worshiped long after their meaning is lost. Essentially, it is a form of idolatry. Furthermore, people who dare to proclaim themselves mystics or prophets, and declare they are in personal communication with God, are ostracized or worse. It’s ironic that religions now repudiate the very kind of people and dramas on which they were founded. As a result, the biggest threat to the religious experience may well come from organized religion itself.” ~Diane Ackerman, Deep Play

How arrogant, how flawed, how narrow-minded, I found myself thinking. This self-described “agnostic,” this “Earth Ecstatic” as she terms herself … how dare she? I wanted to close the book, boycott her words, shut out her self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking philosophy. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith, I mused. And then I listened to myself. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith! The self-righteous kind of view leaves me empty, separates me from other image-bearers of God. But when I look with love, when I look with compassion, my heart of stone is replaced with one as tender as fresh-churned butter.

It is true that often those who welcome mystery and wonder into their lives are the ones overlooked. They quietly sit in pews and marvel at the goodness of God. Yet, in the face of tragedy, these tender ones are mobilized. What if we show them what it means to live a life of faith? To be one body, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? Instead of judgment, let there be love.

God of the Universe,
you made the heavens and the earth,
so we do not call our home merely “planet earth.”
We call it your creation, a divine mystery,
a gift from your most blessed hand.
The world itself is your miracle.
The people of the world, our brothers and sisters.
Help us to see in their faces your presence.
Upon the people of France
may your stars rain down their blessed dust.
Comfort, comfort your people, O Lord.
(adapted from Blessing of the Land or a Garden, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)